By Atiya Hasan
The dramatic domino effect started with Mohamed Bouazizi (image below), a street vendor who set himself ablaze in protest to the confiscation of his wares and the public humiliation he endured at the hands of the Tunisian police. Though the humiliation had been an everyday occurrence since he was 10 years old, somehow Dec. 17th, 2010 was different. It was the catalystic moment that brought awareness to the injustice that has plagued North Africa and the Middle East for many years. A series of protests and revolutions commenced across the region. Just a month later on January 14, 2011, the Tunisian President, Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, fled Tunisia.
On 17th January, another man in Egypt set himself on fire (see image on right) to symbolize the Egyptian peoples commiseration and unity with the Tunisian people. Egypt saw mass protests from January 18th to February 11th that finally saw the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, follow suit and step down from his 20-year long presidency.
The entire world was rocked by the power of such a peaceful and successful revolution displayed by the Egyptians. Encouraged by their victory, protests followed in Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria, Yemen, Morocco and Iraq. Many of these turned bloody when the leaders of Libya (image) and Syria (image) chose to demolish their own people rather than have to give up their positions of power.
The striking power of passionate youth and the Internet has shone through all these events. The wise and elderly of these communities have been left behind to follow the proactive youth leaders. Thanks to social networking sites and a desire for a more fair system, these protests were mobilized. Estimates of how many people would show up to an actual event was often unknown.
Frustrated with the high unemployment rates and taxes, low paying jobs and widespread corruption brought about a deepening dissatisfaction with the state of affairs. While the older generations chose to see these situations as just how things always were, the younger generations who stayed in constant touch with their cousins and friends in the US and other democratic countries through Facebook were becoming aware of freedoms that were unavailable to them.
It is ironic that these Muslim countries have been under the rule of dictators for so long. Roughly 1400 years ago, Islam introduced the first draft of a democratic political system. During a period when most civilizations were ruled by emperors and kings that claimed divine decree, the Muslims chose to elect their first Caliph following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Even women were encouraged to participate in the political process.
South Asian countries also suffer from similar ailments. However, it has only been about 60 or so years since these countries have gained their independence and have had the opportunity to run a government on their own. The widespread corruption and rampant crime are just an inconvenience. There is widespread lack of awareness amongst the common populace that an efficient government is a viable possibility. The youth is indifferent when it comes to matters of politics. They are more comfortable leaving it up to the 70+ age group to deal with it. Possibly another generation must grow up in such a diseased society before realizing a cure is necessary. Only when the people of a society decide to help themselves can true change be brought about.
Here is a detailed timeline of Middle East events.